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Microplastics Discovered in Arctic Snow


Microplastics are pieces of plastic that are smaller than 5mm and emerge when man-made materials disintegrate. A recent study carried out by scientists from the Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research found microplastics in huge quantities across the Arctic and the Alps.

The team, made up of German and Swiss scientists, examined snow from various locations including the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. In the Svalbard sample alone, they discovered 14,400 particles of plastic per litre.

The highest concentration of plastic was found in the Bavarian Alps, where they found 154,000 particles per litre in a snow sample gathered near a rural road in Bavaria.

Where is the Plastic Coming From?

Researchers believe that the plastic particles are being carried through the air and are reaching some of the most remote locations on earth. Rain then caused the particles to fall to the ground in even the most isolated areas.

This discovery raises the prospect that plastic pollution reaches beyond the waste plastic found on the land and in the sea, and that it is also airborne.

The samples they detected in the study included varnish, rubber found in tyres and materials that could have originated in textiles or packaging.

What Does This Mean?

While the research team did expect to find microplastics, they didn’t expect to find it in such enormous concentrations. Their research suggests that plastic fragments may become airborne in a similar way to how dust and pollen does.

The team used methods that allowed them to detect even the smallest of particles (as small as 0.011mm – less than the width of a human hair) where previous studies have looked for much larger microplastics. Based on the team’s research, it seems that we have far underestimated the actual level of microplastics in the environment.

Once scientists have proven that large quantities of microplastics are carried through the air, it raises the question of how much plastic we are inhaling.

The bigger question is what effects microplastics have on humans, especially if they are inhaled in the air we breathe.

This just goes to show that the plastic crisis we are experiencing goes beyond what we can see and that we must all do everything we can to limit the amount of plastic we use.